You may know me as the voice of reason and the most level-headed kid on MTV’s Jersey Shore, but the real Vinny G. suffers from general anxiety disorder. I may seem cool, calm, and stress-free on TV, but the truth is that my anxious mind can sometimes spin crazy out of control.
In my new book, Control the Crazy: My Plan to Stop Stressing, Avoid Drama, and Maintain Inner Cool I admit to readers straight up that I’ve struggled with mad anxiety and stress since high school, and I share the triple-threat, mind-body-spirit program I’ve developed to help me cope, and kill it, on and off the set.
There are many tools I use to put my anxiety and stress in check, and one of my favorite physical tools is to eat clean. Now, if you’re familiar with Jersey Shore, you know that my roommates and I often stumble home from the clubs at three in the morning and gorge on greasy boardwalk food before passing out. And when I’m off set and at home on Staten Island, my full-on Sicilian mother is most often found in the kitchen, cooking and serving up ridiculous amounts of fried chicken cutlets and beef meatballs that I have no problem eating. Look, I’m not perfect. I’m Italian. Eating right can be tough, but as a general rule I try to balance out my diet with “stress-free” foods—lean proteins, organic fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Why? Our minds and physical bodies are one hundred percent connected, so I know that if I eat like garbage, not only will I feel like garbage, but also my mood and overall mental state will suffer.
Keeping my mind cool, calm, and clear is so important to me that for National Stress Awareness Month, I decided to take my clean eating practices to another level and go vegan. Naturally, when I announced my plan to the Guadagnino household at Sunday dinner, I got a few sighs and eye rolls. My mother gave me a look like, Vin—really?
I explained that I’d read that the fiercest animals in terms of strength and sheer poundage—gorillas, giraffes, buffalo, elephants—are herbivores, and that the human body, which is gorilla-like (look no further than a New Jersey gym to see evidence of this), also thrives on a plant-based diet. In other words: hard-core beasts are veg-heads.
I thought, I should totally do this, and how hard could it be? Even if it is hard, I like a challenge and especially one that pushes my body and mind to its full operating potential.
For a week, I stripped my diet of all animal-based products. And let me tell you, this became a full-time job. I thought, maybe I’m too busy for this? It seems everything has either milk or eggs or iron in it. I lived on blended fruit and veggie shakes for breakfast and snacked on pumpkin seeds and KIND bars from Trader Joe’s. For dinner, I ate low-carb vegan pasta and tossed it with garlic, olive oil, and grilled zucchini and other vegetables.
I wasn’t eating much; needless to say, I started dropping weight, and I was hungry all the time. I found myself texting my sister Antonella (she’s the crunchy granola type) throughout the day like you would an AA sponsor: What the hell—I’m starving. What can I eat? Help!
Finally at this year’s GLAAD Media Awards, where I was a presenter, I broke. Dinner for all the guests included farm-fresh roasted chicken, and as soon as it landed at my table, I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough; I ripped into it like a lion (note: not like a gorilla). At first I felt like I’d failed. Then I remembered my own advice: instead of striving for perfection, focus on balance; focus on foods that level out your mood. For me, this includes some amount of fish and other lean proteins. Mixed with quality carbs and organic fruits and vegetables, this is the diet that works best for my physical and mental health. It keeps my energy up, my body trim, and most important—my anxiety under control.
At the end of the day, you gotta do you. Do what makes you feel at the top of your mental and physical game. Every time you eat, you have an important choice to make: Will I choose foods that leave me feeling good, both physically and mentally, or not? When you think about it that way, it’s a no-brainer, right?